Finally! Some Common Sense in Washington

Sarah Lacy

People inside the Beltway like to talk about how screwed up the healthcare industry is but offer few solutions. They typically vacillate between those wanting more government-subsidized insurance and those wanting more privatization.

A few hours ago, I heard a significantly more cogent argument from, of all people, Richard H. Carmona, the U.S. Surgeon General and the lunch keynote at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. It sounds obvious: prevention and education. But he made a good case for the staggered savings it could reap.

He talked about his time as a surgeon and the head of a trauma unit. He described the futility of the job saying he was no longer a surgeon but “repairer of society’s ills.” Two-thirds of the people he stitched up or resuscitated were there for avoidable reasons, whether they’d be shot or stabbed or just eaten too much junk food, bringing on heart disease and diabetes. And all that preventable trauma weighs heaviest on the healthcare system (no obesity pun intended.) And all he--and others-- were doing was stitching them up—there was no attempt to change the bad behavior.

“We will never solve the healthcare crisis just focusing on the economics of who pays,” said the charismatic Carmona, who as a child of immigrants and highschool dropout is a quintessential rags-to-riches story. No matter who pays, he says, without more of an emphasis on prevention—from making food labels easier to decipher to telling sexually active women to take folic acid—we’re headed towards “the end of what we know of as healthcare.”

Scary, but true.

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